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PHILOSOPHY OF B£RGSON
HILOSOPHY OF BERGSON
Hon. Bertrand Russell
IRER AND LATE FELLOW OF TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE
WITH A REPLY
Mr. H. WILDON CARR
SECRETARY OF THE ARISTOTELIAN SOCIETY
AND A REJOINDER BY MR. RUSSELL
Published for "The Heretics" by
BOWES AND BOWES
London : Macmilian and Co-, Ltd.
Glasgow ; Jas. MacLehose and Sons
Price ONE SHILLING Net.
PHILOSOPHY OF BERQSON
Hon. Bertrand Russell
LECTURER AND LATE FELLOW OF TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE
WITH A REPLY
Mr. H. WILDON CARR
SECRETARY OF THE ARISTOTELIAN SOCIETY
AND A REJOINDER BY MR. RUSSELL
Published for "The Heretics" by
BOWES AND BOWES
London : Macmillan and Co., Ltd.
Qlasgow : Jas. MacLehose and Sons
Mr. Russell's criticism of M. Bergson was read before " The
Heretics," in Trinity College, on March nth, 1913, and was
afterwards published in The Monist, July, 1912.
Mr. Carr's reply, and Mr. Russell's rejoinder, appeared in
The Cambridge Magazine for April 12th and April 26th,
The Society is indebted to the editors of both papers for
permission to republish.
With regard to the value of the following pages as an
authoritative account of two of the leading tendencies in modern
philosophic thought, it is perhaps worth while to record that M.
Bergson wrote to the Editor of The Cambridge Magazine, in
reply to a request that he should contribute to the discussion
himself : —
" Je trouve excellente la reponse que Mr. Wildon Carr a
deja faite, et qui porte sur les points speciaux vises par la critique
de Mr. Russell."
The classification of philosophies is effected, as a rule,
either by their methods or by their lesults : "empirical"
and " a priori " is a classification by methods, " realist " and
" idealist " is a classification by results. An attempt to
classify Bergson's philosophy in either of these ways is hardly
likely to be successful, since it cuts across all the recognised
But there is another way of classifying philosophies,
less precise, but perhaps more helpful to the non-philo-
sophical ; in this way, the principle of division is according
to the predominant desire which has led the philosopher
to philosophize. Thus we shall have philosophies of feeling
inspired by the love of happiness ; theoretical philosophies,
inspired by the love of knowledge ; and practical philosophies,
inspired by the love of action.
Among philosophies of feeling we shall place all those
which are primarily optimistic or pessimistic, all those that
offer schemes of salvation or try to prove that salvation is
impossible ; to this class belong most religious philosophies.
Among theoretical philosophies we shall place most of the
* The abbreviations of the titles of the works of M. Bergson referred
to are : C. E., Creative Evolution ; M. and M., Matter and Memo-\ ; T .
and F. W., Time and Free Will. The references are to tb.5 English
translations of M. Bergson's books.
great systems ; for though the desire for knowledge is rare,
it has been the source of most of what is best in philosophy.
Practical philosophies, on the other hand, will be those which
regard action as the supreme good, considering happiness
an effect and knowledge a mere instrument of successful
activity. Philosophies of this type would have been common
among Western Europeans if philosophers had been average
men ; as it is, they have been rare until recent times, in fact
their chief representatives are the pragmatists and M. Bergson.
In the rise of this type of philosophy we may see, as M. Bergson
himself does, the revolt ot the modern man of action against
the authority of Greece, and more particularly of Plato ; or
we may connect it, as Dr. Schiller apparently would with
imperialism and the motor car. The modern world calls
for such a philosophy, and the success which it has achieved
is therefore not surprising.
M. Bergson's philosophy, unlike most of the systems of
the past, is dualistic : the woild, for him, is divided into two
disparate portions, on the one hand life, on the other matter,
or rather that inert something which the intellect views as
matter. The whole universe is the clash and conflict of two
opposite motions : life, which climbs upward, and matter,
which falls downward. Life is one great force, one vast
vital impulse, given once for all from the beginning of the
world, meeting the resistance of matter, struggling to break
a way through matter, learning gradually to use matter by
means of organisation ; divided by the obstacles it encounters
into diverging currents, like the wind at the street corner ;
partly subdued by matter through the very adaptations
which matter forces upon it ; yet retaining always its capacity
for free activity, struggling always to find new outlets, seeking
always for greater liberty of movement amid the opposing
walls of, matter.
Evolution is not primaiily explicable by adaptation to
environment ; adaptation explains only the turns and twists
of evolution, like the windings of a road approaching a town
through hilly country. But this simile is not quite adequate ;
there is no town, no definite goal, at the end of the road
along which evolution travels. Mechanism and teleology
suffer from the same defect : both suppose that there is no
essential novelty in the world. Mechanism regards the future
as implicit in the past, since it believes the future to be cal-
culable ; teleology also, since it believes that the end to be
achieved can be known in advance, denies that any essential
novelty is contained in the result.
As against both these views, though with more sympathy
for teleology than for mechanism, J" M. Bergson maintains
that evolution is truly creative, like the work of an artist.
An impulse to action, an undefined want, exists beforehand,
but until the want is satisfied it is impossible to know the
nature of what will satisfy it. For example, we may suppose
some vague desire in sightless animals to be able to be aware
of objects before they were in contact with them. This led
to efforts which finally resulted in the creation of eyes. Sight
satisfied the desire, but could not have been imagined before-
hand. For this reason, evolution is unpredictable, and
determinism cannot refute the advocates of free will.
This broad outline is filled in by an account of the actual
development oi life on the earth. The first division of the
current was into plants and animals : plants aimed at storing
up energy in a reservoir, animals aimed at using energy for
sudden and rapid movements. "The same impetus," he
says, " that has led the animal to give itself nerves and nerve
centres must have ended, in the plant, in the chlorophyllian
function" (C. E., p. 120). But among animals, at a later
stage, a new bifurcation appeared : instinct and intellect
became more or less separated. They are never wholly
without each other, but in the main intellect is the misfortune
of man, while instinct is seen at its best in ants, bees, and
Bergson. The division between intellect and instinct is
fundamental in his philosophy, much of which is a kind of
Sandford and Merton, with instinct as the good boy and in-
tellect as the bad boy.
Instinct at its best is called intuition. " By intuition,"
he says, " I mean instinct that has become disinterested,
self conscious, capable of reflecting upon its object and of
enlarging it indefinitely " (C. E., p. 186). The account of
the doings of intchect is not always easy to follow, but if
we are to understand Bergson we murt do our best.
Intelligence or intellect, " as it leaves the hands of
nature, has for its chief object the inorganic solid " (C. E.,
p. 162) ; it can only form a clear idea of the discontinuous
and the immobile (pp. 163-4) > its concepts are outside each
other like objects in space, and have the same stability (p.
169). The intellect separates in space and fixes in time ;
it is not made to think evolution, but represent becoming
as a series of states (p. 171). " The intellect is characterised
by a natural inability to understand life " (p. 174) ; geometry
and logic, which are its typical products, are strictly applicable
to solid bodies, but elsewhere reasoning must be checked by
common sense, which, as Bergson truly says, is a very different
thing (p. 170). Solid bodies, it would seem, are something
which mind has created on purpose to apply intellect to them,
much as it has created chess-boards in order to play chess on
them. The genesis of intellect and the genesis of material
bodies, we are told, are correlative : both have been developed
by reciprocal adaptation (p. 196). " An identical process
must have cut out matter and the intellect, at the same time,
from a stuff that contained both " (p. 210).
This conception of the simultaneous growth of matter
and intellect is ingenious, and deserves to be understood.
Broadly, I think, what is meant is this : Intellect is the power
of seeing thing? as separate one from another, and matter is
that which is separated into distinct things In reality
there are no separate solid things, only an end] ess stream of
becoming, in which nothing becomes and there is nothing
that this nothing becomes. But becoming may be a move-
ment up or a movement down : when it is a movement up
it is called life, when it is a movement down it is what, as
misapprehended by the intellect, is called matter. I suppose
the universe is shaped like a cone, with the Absolute at the
vertex, for the movement up brings things together, while the
movement down separates them, or at least seems to do so.
In order that the upward motion of mind may be able to thread
its way through the downward motion of the falling bodies
which hail upon it, it must be able to cut out paths between
them ; thus as intelligence was formed, outlines and paths
appeared (p. 199), and the primitive flux was cut up into
separate bodies. The intellect may be compared to a
carver, but it has the peculiarity of imagining that the chicken
was always the separate pieces into which the carving-knife
" The intellect," Bergson says, " always behaves as if
it were fascinated by the contemplation of inert matter.
It is life looking outward, putting itself outside itself, adopting
the ways of inorganised nature in principle, in order to direct
them in fact " (p. 170). If we may be allowed to add another
image to the many by which Bergson's philosophy is
illustrated, we may say tnat the universe is a vast funicular
railway, in which life is the train that goes up, and matter is
the train that goes down. The intellect consists in watching
the descending train as it passes the ascending train in which
we are. The obviously nobler faculty which concentrates
its attention on our own train, is instinct or intuition. It is
possible to leap from one train to the other ; this happens
when we become the victims of automatic habit, and is the
essence of the comic. Or we can divide ourselves into parts,
one part going up and one down ; then only the part
going down is comic. But intellect is not itself a descending
motion, it is merely an observation of the descending motion
by the ascending motion.
Intellect, which separates things, is, according to Bergson,
a kind of dream ; it is not active, as all our life ought to be,
but purely contemplative. When we dream, he says, our
self is scattered, our past is broken into fragments (p. 212),*
* It is noteworthy that elsewhere Bergson speaks of dreams as
giving us duration more pure than in waking life (T. and F.W., p. 126).
thin^ which really interpenetrate each other are seen
as separate solid units : the extra-spatial degrades itself into
spatiality (p. 218), which is nothing hut separateness. Thus
all intellect, since it separates, tends to geometry, and logic,
which deals with concepts that lie wholly outside each other,
is really an outcome of geometry, following the direction of
materiality (pp. 222-4). Both deduction and induction
require spatial intuition behind them (p. 225) ; " the move-
ment at the end of which is spatiality lays down along its course
the faculty of induction, as well as that of deduction, in fact,
intellectuality entire." It creates them in mind, and also
the order in things which the intellect finds there (p. 228).
Thus logic and mathematics do not represent a positive
spiritual effort (p. 224), but a mere somnambulism, in which
the will is suspended, and the mind is no longer active. In-
capacity for mathematics is therefore a sign of grace —
fortunately a very common one.
As intellect is connected with space, so instinct or in-
tuition is connected with time. It is one of the noteworthy
features of Bergson's philosophy that, unlike most writers,
he regards time and space as profoundly dissimilar. Space,
the characteristic of matter, arises from a dissection of the
flux which is really illusory, useful, up to a certain point,
in practice, but utterly misleading in theory. Time, on the
contrary, is the essential characteristic of life or mind.
" Wherever anything lives," he says, " there is, open some-
where, a register in which time is being inscribed" (C. E.,
p. 17). But the time here spoken of is not mathematical
time, the homogeneous assemblage of mutually external
instants. Mathematical time, according to Bergson, is really
a form of space ; the time which is of the essence of life is
what he calls duration. This conception of duration is funda-
mental in his philosophy ; it appears already in his earliest
book Time and Free Will, and it is necessary to understand
it if we are to have any comprehension of his system. It
is, however, a very difficult conception. I do not fully under-
stand it myself, and inerefore I cannot hope to explain it
with all the lucidity which it doubtless deserves.
" Pure duration," we are told, " is the form which our
conscious states assume when our ego lets itself live, when
it refrains from separating its present state from its former
states " (7\ and F. W., p. ioo). It forms the past and the
present into one organic whole, where there is mutual penetra-
tion, succession without distinction (ib.). " Within our ego,
there is succession without mutual externality ; outside the
ego, in pure space, there is mutual externality without
succession " (p. 108).
" Questions relating to subject and object, to their
distinction and their union, should be put in terms of time
rather than of space " (M. and M., p. 77). In the duration
in which we see ourselves acting, there are dissociated elements ;
but in the duration in which we act, our states melt into each
other (M. and M., p. 243). Pure duration is what is most
removed from externality and least penetrated with exter-
nality, a duration in which the past is big with a present
absolutely new. But then our will is strained to the utmost ;
we have to gather up the past which is slipping away, and
thrust it whole and undivided into the present. At such
moments we truly possess ourselves, but such moments are
rare (C. E., pp. 210-211). Duration is the very stuff of reality,
which is perpetual becoming, never something made (C. E.,
It is above all in memory that duration exhibits itself,
for in memory the past survives in the present. Thus the
theory of memory becomes of great importance in Bergson's
philosophy. Matter and Memory is concerned to show the
relation of mind and matter, of which both are affirmed to
be real (p. vii), by an analysis of memory, which is " just
the intersection of mind and matter " (p. xii).
There are, to begin with, two radically different things,
both of which are commonly called memory ; the clear dis-
tinction between these two is one of the best things in Bergson.
" The past survives," he says, " under two distinct forms :
first, in motor mechanisms ; secondly, in independent recollec-
tions " (M. and M., p. 87). For example, a man is said to
remember a poem if he can repeat it by heart, that is to say,
if he has acquired a certain habit or mechanism enabling him
to repeat a former action. But he might, at least theoretically,
be able to repeat the poem without any recollection of the
previous occasions on which he has read it ; thus there is no
consciousness of past events involved in this sort of memory.
The second sort, which alone really deserves to be called
memory, is exhibited in recollections of separate occasions
when he has read the poem, each unique and with a date.
Here there can be no question of habit, since each event only
occurred once, and had to make its impression immediately.
It is suggested that in some way everything that has happened
to us is remembered, but as a rule, only what is useful comes
into consciousness. Apparent failures of memory, it is argued,
are not really failures of the mental part of memory, but of
the motor mechanism for bringing memory into action. This
view is supported by a discussion of brain physiology and the
facts of amnesia, from which it is held to result that true
memory is not a function of the brain (M. and M., p. 315).
The past must be acted by matter, imagined by mind (M. and
M., p. 298). Memory is not an emanation of matter ; indeed
the contrary would be nearer the truth if we mean matter as
grasped in concrete perception, which always occupies a
certain duration (M. and M., p. 237).
" Memory must be, in principle, a power absolutely
independent of matter. If, then, spirit is a reality, it is here,
in the phenomena of memory, that we may come into touch
with it experimentally " (M. and M., p. 81).
At the opposite end from pure memory Bergson places
pure perception, in regard to which he adopts an ultra-realist
position. " In pure perception," he says, " we are actually
placed outside ourselves, we touch the reality of the object
in an immediate intuition " (p. 84). So completely does he
identify perception with its object that he almost refuses to
call it mental at all. " Pure perception," he says, " which
is the lowest degree of mind — mind without memory — is
really part of matter, as we understand matter " (M. and M.,
p. 297). Pure perception is constituted by dawning action,
its actuality lies in its activity (M. and M., p. 74). It is in
this way that the brain becomes relevant to perception, for
the brain is not an instrument of representation, but an
instrument of action (M. and M., p. 83). The function of the
brain is to limit our mental life to what is practically useful.
But for the brain, one gathers, everything would be perceived,
but in fact we only perceive what interests us (cf. M. and M.,
p. 34). " The body, always turned towards action, has for
its essential function to limit, with a view to action, the life
of the spirit " (M. and M., p. 233). It is, in fact, an in-
strument of choice.
We must now return to the subject of instinct or intuition,
as opposed to intellect. It was necessary first to give some
account of duration and memory, since Bergson's theories of
duration and memory are presupposed in his account of in-
tuition. In man, as he now exists, intuition is the fringe
or penumbra of intellect : it has been thrust out of the centre
by being less useful in action than intellect, but it has deeper
uses which make it desirable. to bring it back into greater
prominence. Bergson wishes to make intellect "turn in-
wards on itself, and awaken the potentialities of intuition
which still slumber within it " (C. E., p. 192). The relation
between instinct and intellect is compared to that between
sight and touch. Intellect, we aie told, will not give know-
ledge of things at a distance ; indeed the function of science
is said to be to explain all peiceptions in terms of touch.
" Instinct alone," he says, " is knowledge at a distance.
It has the same relation to intelligence that vision has to
touch " (C. E., p. 177). We may observe in passing that, as
appears in many passages, Bergson is a strong visualiser,
whose thought is always conducted by means of visual images.
Many things which he declaies to be necessities of all thought
are, I believe, characteristic of visualisers, and would not be
true of those who think by means of auditory images. He
always exalts the sense of sight at the expense of the other
senses, and his views on space would seem to be largely
determined by this fact. I shall return to this question at a
The essential characteristic of intuition is that it does
not divide the world into separate things, as the intellect
does ; although Bergson does not use these words, we might
describe it as synthetic rather than analytic. It apprehends
a multiplicity, but a multiplicity of interpenetrating processes,
not of spatially external bodies. There are in truth no things :
I " things and states are only views, taken by our mind, of
becoming. There are no things, there are only actions "
(C. E., p. 261). This view of the world, which appears
difficult and unnatural to intellect, is easy and natural to
intuition. Memory affords an instance of what is meant, for
in memory the past lives on into the present and intei pene-
trates it. Apart from mind* 'The world would* be perpetually
dying and being born again ; the past would have no reality,
and therefore there would be no past. It is memory, with its
correlative desire, that makes'the past and the future real
and therefore creates tiue duration)and true time. Intuition
alone can understand this mingling of past and future : to
the intellect they remain external, spatially external as it were,
to one another. Under the guidance of intuition, we perceive
that " form is only a snapshot view of a transition " (C. E.,
p. 319), and the philosopher " will see the material world
melt back into a single flux " (C. E., p. 390).
Closely connected with the merits of intuition is Bergson's
doctrine of freedom and his praise of action. " In reality,"
he says, " a living being is a centre of action. It represents
a certain sum of contingency entering into the world, that is
to say, a certain quantity of possible action " (C. E., p. 276).
The arguments against free will depend partly upon assuming
that the intensity of psychical states is a quantity, capable, at
least in theory, of numerical measurement ; this view Bergson
undertakes to refute in the first chapter of Time and Free Will.
Partly the determinist depends, we are told, upon a confusion
between true duration and mathematical time, which Bergson
regards as really a form of space. Partly, again, the deter -
minist rests his case upon the unwarranted assumption that,
when the state of the brain is given, the state of the mind is
theroretically determinate. Bergson is willing to admit that
the converse is true that is to say, that the state of brain is
determinate when the state of mind is given, but he regards
the mind as more differentiated than the brain, and therefore
holds that many different states of mind may correspond to
one state of brain. He concludes that rea 1 freedom is possible :
" We are free when our acts spring from our whole personality,
when they express it, when they have that indefinable resem-
blance to it whicn one sometimes finds between the artist and
his work " [T. and F. W., p. 172).
In the above outline, I have in the main endeavoured
merely to state Bergson's views, without giving the reasons
adduced by him in favour of their truth. This is easier than
it would be with most philosophers, since as a rule he does
not give reasons for his opinions, but relies on their inherent
attractiveness, and on the charm of an excellent style. Like
the advertisers of Oxo, he relies upon picturesque and varied
statement, and an apparent explanation of many obscure
facts. Analogies and similes, especially form a very laige
part of the whole process by which he recommends his views
to the reader. The number of similes for life to be found in
his works exceeds the number in any poet known to me.
Life, he says, is like a shell bursting into fragments which are
again shells (C. £., p. 103). It is like a sheaf (ib., p. 104).
Initially, it was " a tendency to accumulate in a reservoir,
as do especially the green parts of vegetables " (ib., p. 260).
But the reservoir is to be filled with boUing water from which
steam is issuing ; "jets must be gushing out unceasingly., of
which each, falling back, is a woild " (ib., p. 261). Again,
" life appears in its entirety as an immense wave which,
starting from a centre, spreads outwards, and which on almost
the whole of its circumf ei ence is stopped and converted into
oscillation : at one single point the obstacle has been forced,
the impulsion has passed freely " (ib., p. 280). Then there is
the great climax in which life is compaied to a cavalry charge.
" All organised beings, fiom the humblest to the highest,
from the first origins of life to the time in which we are, and
in all places as in aU times, do but evidence a single impulsion,
the inverse of the movement of matter, and in itself indivisible.
All the living hold together, and all yield to the same
tremendous push. The animal takes its stand on the plant,
man best rides animality, and the whole of humanity, in space
and in time, is one immense army galloping beside and before
and behind each of us in an overwhelming charge able to beat
down every resistance and to clear many obstacles, perhaps
even death " (C. E., pp. 285-6).
But a cool critic, who feels himself a mere spectator,
perhaps an unsympathetic spectator, of the charge in which
man is mounted upon animality, m?y be inclined to think
that calm and careful thought is haidly compatible with
this form of exercise. When he is told that thought is a
mere means of action, the mere impulse to avoid obstacles
in the field, he may feel that such a view is becoming in a
cavalry officer, but not in a philosopher, whose business, after
all, is wi + h thought : he may feel that in the passion and noise
of violent motion there is no room for the fainter music of
reason, no leisure for the disinterested contemplation in which
greatness is sought, not by turbulence, but by the greatness
of the universe wlrch is mirrored. In that case, he may be
tempted to ask whether there are any reasons for accepting
such a restless view of the world. And if he asks this question,
he will find, if I am not mistaken, that there is no reason
whatever for accepting this view, either in the universe or in
the writings of M. Bergson.
The two foundations of Bergson's philosophy, in so far
as it is more than an imaginative and poetic view of the
world, are his doctrines of space and time. His doctrine of
space is required for his condemnation of the intellect, and
if he fails in his condemnation of the intellect, the intellect
will succeed in its condemnation of him, for between the two
it is war to the knife. His doctrine of time is necessary for
his vindication of freedom, for his escape from what William
James called a " block universe," foi his doctrine of a perpetual
flux in which there is nothing that flows, and for his whole
account of the relations between mind and matter. It will
be well, therefore, in criticism, to concentrate on these two
doctrines. If they are true, such minor errors and incon-
sistencies as no philosopher escapes would not greatly matter,
while if they are false, nothing remains except an imaginative
epic, to be judged on esthetic rather than on intellectual
grounds. I shall begin with the theory of space, as being the
simpler of the two.
Bergson's theory of space occurs fully and explicitly
in his Time and Free Will, and therefore belongs to the oldest
parts of his philosophy. In his first chapter, he contends
that greater and less imply space, since he regards the great et-
as essentially that which contains the less. He offers no
arguments whatever, either good or bad, in favour of this view ;
he merely exclaims, as though he were giving an obvious
reductio ad absurdum : " As if one could still speak of magni-
tude where there is neither multiplicity nor space I" (p. 9).
The obvious cases to the contrary, such as pleasure and pain,
afford him much difficulty, yet he never doubts or re-examines
the dogma with which he starts.
In his next chapter, he maintains the same thesis as
regards number. " As soon as we wish to picture number
to ourselves," he says, " and not merely figures or words,
we are compelled to have recourse to an extended image "
(p. 78), and " every clear idea of number implies a visual
image in space " (p. 79). These two sentences suffice to show,
as I shall try to prove, that Bergson does not know what
number is, and has himself no clear idea of it. This is shown
also by his definition : " Number may be defined in general
as a collection of units, or, speaking more exactly, as the
synthesis of the one and the many " (p. 75).
In discussing these statements, I must ask the reader's
patience for a moment while I call attention to some distinc-
tions which may at first appear pedantic, but are really vital.
There are three entirely different things which are confused
by Bergson in the above statements, namely : (i) number,
the general concept applicable to the various particular
numbers ; (2) the various particular numbers ; (3) the various
collections to which the various particular numbers are
applicable. It is this last that is defined by Bergson when
he says that number is a collection of units. The twelve
apostles, the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve months, the
twelve signs of the zodiac, are all collections of units, yet no
one of them is the number 12, still less is it number in general,
as by the above definition it ought to be. The number 12,
obviously, is something which all these collections have in
common but which they do not have in common with other
collections, such as cricket elevens. Hence the number
12 is neither a collection of twelve terms, nor is it some-
thing which all collections have in common ; and number
in general is a property of 12 or 11 or any other number,
but not of the various collections that have twelve terms or
Hence when, following Bergson's advice, we " have
recourse to an extended image " and picture, say, twelve dots
such as are obtained by throwing double sixes at dice, we
have still not obtained a picture of the number 12. The
number 12, in fact, is something more abstract than any
picture. Before we can be said to have any understanding
of the number 12, we must know what different collections
of twelve units have in common, and this is something which
cannot be pictured because it is abstract. Bergson only
succeeds in making his theory of number plausible by confusing
a particular collection with the number of its terms, and this
again with number in general.
The confusion is the same as if we confused a particular
young man with youth, and youth with the general concept
" period of human life," and were then to argue that because
a young man has two legs, youth must have two legs, and
the general concept " period of human life " must have two
legs. The confusion is important because, as soon as it is
perceived, the theory that number or particular numbers
can be pictured in space is seen to be untenable. This not
only disproves Bergson's theory as to number, but also his
more general theory that all abstract ideas and all logic
are derived from space ; for the abstract 12, the common
property of all dozens as opposed to any particular dozen,
though it is never present to his mind, is obviously conceivable
and obviously incapable of being pictured in space.
But apart from the question of numbers, shall we admit
Bergson's contention that every plurality of separate units
involves space ? Some of the cases that appear to contradict
this view are coi sidered by him, for example successive
sounds. When we hear the steps of a passer-by in the street,
he says, we visualise his successive positions ; when we hear
the strokes of a bell, we either picture it swinging backwards
and forwards, or we range the successive sounds in an ideal
space (T. and F. W., p. 86). But these are mere autobio-
graphical observations of a visualiser, and illustrate the
remark we made before, that Bergson's views depend upon the
predominance of the sense of sight in him. There is no logical
necessity to range the strokes of a clock in an imaginary
space : most people, I imagine, count them without any
spatial auxiliary. Yet no reason is alleged by Bergson for
the view that space is necessary. He assumes this as obvious,
and proceeds at once to apply it to the case of times. Where
there seem to be different times outside each other, he says,
the times aie pictured as spread out in space ; in real time,
such as is given by memory, different times interpenetrate
each other, and cannot be counted because they are not
The view that all separateness implies space is now
supposed estabhshed, and is used deductively to prove that
space is involved wherever there is obviously separateness ,
however little other reason there may be for suspecting such
a thing. Thus abstract ideas foi example, obviously exclude
each other : whiteness is differenc from blackness, health is
different from sickness, folly is different from wisdom. Hence
all abstract ideas involve space ; and therefore logic, which
uses abstract ideas, is an offshot of geometry, and the whole
of the intellect depends upon a supposed habit of picturing
things side by side in space. This conclusion, upon which
Bergson's whole condemnation of the intellect rests, is based,
so far as can be discovered, entirely upon a personal idio-
syncrasy mistaken for a necessity of thought, I mean the
idiosyncrasy of visualising successions as spread out on a line.
The instance of numbers shows that, if Bergson were in the
right, we could never have attained to the abstract ideas
which are supposed to be thus impregnated with space ;
and conversely, the fact that we can understand abstract
ideas (as opposed to particular things which exemplify them)
seems sufficient to prove that he is wrong in regarding the
intellect as impregnated with space.
One of the bad effects of an anti-intellectual philosophy,
such as that of Bergson, it that it thrives upon the errors
and confusions of the intellect. Hence it is led to prefer bad
thinking to good, to declare every momentary difficulty
insoluble, and to regard every foolish mistake as revealing
the bankruptcy of intellect and the triumph of intuition.
There are in Bergson's works many allusions to mathematics
and science, and to a careless reader these allusions may seem
to strengthen his philosophy greatly. As regards science,
especially biology and physiology, I am not competent to
criticise his interpretations. But as regards mathematics,
he has deliberately preferred traditional errors in interpretation
to the more modern -views which have prevailed among
mathematicians for the last half century. In this matter, he
has followed the example of most philosophers. In the
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the infinitesimal
calculus, though well developed as a method, was supported,
as regards its foundations, by many fallacies and much con-
fused thinking. Hegel and his followers seized upon these
fallacies and confusion?, to support them in their attempt
to prove all mathematics self-contradictory. Thence the
Hegelian account of these matters passed into the current
thought of philosophers, where it has remained long after
the mathematicians have removed all the difficulties upon
which the philosophers rely. And so long as the main object
of philosophers is to show that nothing can be learned by
patience and detailed thinking, but that we ought rather to
worship the prejudices of the ignorant under the title of
" reason " if we are Hegelians, or of " intuition " if we are
Bergsonians, so long philosophers will take care to remain
ignorant of what mathematicians have done to remove the
errors by which Hegel profited.
Apart from the question of number which we have
already considered, the chief point at which Bergson touches
mathematics is his rejection of what he calls the " cinemato-
graphic " representation of the world. Mathematics con-
ceives change, even continuous change, as constituted by a
series of states ; Bergson, on the contrary, contends that no
series of states can represent what is continuous, and that
in change a thing is never in any state at all. This view
that change is constituted by a series of changing states he
calls cinematographic ; this view, he says, is natural to the
intellect, but is radically vicious. True change can only be
explained by true duration ; it involves an interpenetration
of past and present, not a mathematical succession of static
states. This is what is called a " dynamic " instead of a
" static " view of the world. The question is important, and
in spite of its difficulty we cannot pass it by.
Bergson's position is illustrated — and what is to be said
in criticism may also be aptly illustrated — by Zeno's argument
of the arrow. Zeno argues that, since the arrow at each
moment simply is where it is, thereforethe arrow in its flight
is always at rest. At first sight, this argument may not appear
a very powerful one. Of course, it will be said, the arrow
is where it is at one moment, but at another moment it is
somewhere else, and this is just was constitutes motion.
Certain difficulties, it is true, arise out of the continuity of
motion, if we insist upon assuming that motion is also dis-
continuous. These difficulties, thus obtained, have long been
part of the stock-in-trade of philosophers. But if, with the
mathematicians, we avoid the assumption that motion is also
discontinuous, we shall not fall into the philosopher's
difficulties. A cinematograph in which there are an infinite
number of films, and in which there is never a next film because
an infinite number come between any two, will perfectly
represent a continuous motion. Wherein, then, lies the force
of Zeno's argument ?
Zeno belonged to the Eleatic school, whose object was
to prove that there could be no such thing as change. The
natural view to take of the world is that there are things
which change ; for example, there is an arrow which is now
here, now there. By bisection of this view, philosophers
have developed two paradoxes. The Eleatics said that
there were things but no changes ; Heraclitus and Bergson
said that there were changes but no things. The Eleatics
said there was an arrow, but no flight ; Heraclitus and Bergson
said there was a flight but no arrow. Each party conducted
its argument by refutation of the other party. How ridiculous
to say there is no arrow ! say the " static " party. How
ridiculous to say there is no flight ! say the " dynamic "
party. The unfortunate man who stands in the middle
and maintains that there is both the arrow and its flight is
assumed by the disputants to deny both ; he is therefore
pierced, like St. Sebastian, by the arrow from one side and by
its flight from the other. But we have still not discovered
wherein lies the force of Zeno's argument.
Zeno assumes, tacitly, the essence of the Bergsonian
theory of change. That is to say, he assumes that when a
thing is in a process of continuous change, even if it is only
change of position, there must be in the thing some internal
state of change. The thing must, at each instant, be in-
trinsically different from what it would be if it were not
changing. He then points out that at each instant the arrow
simply is where it is, just as it would be if it were at rest.
Hence he concludes that there can be no such thing as a state
of motion, and therefore, adhering to the view that a state of
motion is essential to motion, he infers that there can be no
motion and that the arrow is always at rest.
Zeno's argument, therefore, though it does not touch
the mathematical account of change, does, prima facie,
refute a view of change which is not unlike M. Bergson's.
How, then, does M. Bergson meet Zeno's argument ? He
meets it by denying that the arrow is ever anywhere. After
stating Zeno's argument, he replies : " Yes, if we suppose
that the arrow can ever be in a point of its course. Yes
again, if the arrow, which is moving, ever coincides with a
position, which is motionless. But the arrow never is in
any point of its course " (C. E., p. 325). This reply to Zeno,
or a closely similar one concerning Achilles and the Tortoise,
occurs in all his three books. Bergson's view, plainly, is
paradoxical ; whether it is possible, is a question which
demands a discussion of his view of duration. His only argu-
ment in its favour is the statement that the mathematical
view of change " implies the absurd proposition that move-
ment is made of immobilitie^ " (C. E., p. 325). But the
apparent absurdity of this view is merely due to the verbal
form in which he has stated it, and vanishes as soon as we
realise that motion implies relations. A friendship, for
example, is made out of people who are friends, but not out of
friendships ; a genealogy is made out of men, but not out of
genealogies. So a motion is made out of what is moving,
but not out of motions. It expresses the fact that a thing
ma}' be in different places at different times, and that the places
may still be different, however near together the times may
be. Bergson's argument against the mathematical view of
motion, therefore, reduces itself, in the last analysis, to a mere
play upon words. And with this conclusion we may pass
on to a criticism of his theory of duration.
Bergson's theory of duration is bound up with his theory
of memory. According to this theory, things remembered
survive in memory, and thus interpenetrate present things :
past and present are not mutually external, but are mingled
in the unity of consciousness. Action, he says, is what
constitutes being ; but mathematical time is a mere passive
receptacle, which does nothing and therefore is nothing
(C. £"., p. 41). The past, he says, is that which acts no longer,
and the present is that which is acting (M. and M., p. 74).
But in this statement, as indeed throughout his account of
duration, Bergson is unconsciously assuming the ordinary
mathematical time ; without this, his statements are unmean-
ing. What is meant by saying " the past is essentially that
which acts no longer " (his italics), except that the past is that
of which the action is past ? The words " no longer " are
words expressive of the past ; to a person who did not have
the ordinary notion of the past as something outside the
present, these words would have no meaning. Thus his
definition is circular. What he says is, in effect, " the past
is that of which the action is in the past." As a definition,
this cannot be regarded as a happy effort. And the same
applies to the present. The present, we are told, is " thai
which is acting " (his italics).* But the word " is " introduces
just that idea of the present which was to be defined. The
present is that which is acting as opposed to that which was
acting or will be acting. That is to say, the present is that
whose action is in the present, not in the past or in the future.
Again the definition is circular. An earlier passage on the
same page will illustrate the fallacy further. " That which
constitutes our pure perception," he says, " is our dawning
action. . . . The actuality of our perception thus lies in
its activity, in the movements which prolong it, and not in
its greater intensity : the past is only idea, the present is
ideo-motor " (ib.). This passage makes it quite clear that,
when Bergson speaks of the past, he does not mean the past,
* Similarly in Matter and Memory (p. 193) he says it is a question
whether the past has ceased to exist, or has only ceased to be useful.
The present, he says, is not that which is, but that which is being made.
The words 1 have italicized here really involve the usual view of time.
but our present memory of the past. The past when it existed
was just as active as the present is now ; if Bergson's account
were correct, the present moment ought to be the only one
in the whole history of the world containing any activity.
In earlier times there were other perceptions, just as
active, just as actual in their day, as our present perception ;
the past, in its day, was by no means only idea, but was in its
intrinsic character just what the present is now. This real
past, however, Bergson simply forgets ; what he speaks of
is the present idea of the past. The real past does not mingle
with the present. Our memory of the past does of course
mingle with the present, since it is part of it ; but that is a
very different thing.
The whole of Bergson's theory of duration and time
rests throughout on the elementary confusion between the
present occurrence of a recollection and the past occurrence
whicn is recollected. But for the fact that time is so familiar
to us, the vicious circle involved in his attempt to deduce
the past as what is no longer active would be obvious at
once. As it is, what Bergson gives is an account of the
difference between perception and recollection — both present
facts — and what he believes himself to have given is an
account of the difference between the present and the past.
As soon as this confusion is realised, his theory of time is
seen to be simply a theory which omits time altogether.
The confusion between present remembering and the
past event remembered, which seems to be at the bottom
of Bergson's theory of time, is an instance of a more general
confusion which, if I am not mistaken, vitiates a great deal
of his thought, and indeed a great deal of the thought of most
modern philosophers — I mean the confusion between an act
of knowing and that which is known. In memory, the act of
knowing is in the present, whereas what is known is in the
past ; thus by confusing them the distinction between past
and present is blurred. In perception, the act of knowing is
mental, whereas what is known is (at least in one sense)
physical or material ; thus by confusing the two, the distinction
between mind and matter is blurred. This enables Bergson
to say, as we saw, that " pure perception, which is the lowest
degree of mind ... is really part of matter." The act of
perceiving is mind, while that which is perceived is (in one
sense) matter ; thus when these two are confused, the above
statement becomes intelligible.
Throughout Matter and Memory, this confusion between
the act of knowing and the object known is indispensable.
It is enshrined in the use of the word " image," which is
explained at the very beginning of the book.* He there states
that, apart from philosophical theories, everything that we
know consists of " images," which indeed constitute the whole
universe. He says : " I call matter the aggregate of images,
and perception of matter these same images referred to the
eventual action of one particular image, my body " (M. and M.,
p. 8). It will be observed that matter and the perception of
matter, according to him, consist of the very same things.
The brain, he says, is like the rest of the material universe,
and is therefore an image if the universe is an image (p. 9).
Since the brain, which nobody sees, is not, in the ordinary
sense, an image, we are not surprised at his saying that an
image can be without being perceived (p. 27) ; but he explains
later on thai;, as regards images, the difference between being
and being consciously perceived is only one of degree (p. 30).
This is perhaps explained by another passage in which he
says : " What can be a non-perceived material object, an
image not imaged, unless it is a kind of unconscious mental
state ? " (p. 183). Finally (p. 304) he says : " That every
reality lias a kinship, an analogy, in short a relation with
consciousness — this is what we concede to idealism by the
very fact that we term things ' images.' " Nevertheless he
attempts to allay our initial doubt by saying that he is begin-
* Bergson's use of the word " image " is made clearer by a very
penetrating analysis of Berkeley in a recent article, " L'lntuition
Philosophique " (Revue de Mrtaphysique et de Morale, Nov. 191 1).
This article displays very distinctly the profound influence of Berkeley
on Bergson's thought. Bergson's "image" is practically Berkeley's
ning at a point before any of the assumptions of philosophers
have been introduced. " We will assume," he says, " for
the moment that we know nothing of theories of matter and
theories of spirit, nothing of the discussions as to the reahty
or ideaUty of the external world. Here I am in the presence
of images " (p. i). And in the new Introduction which he
wrote for the English edition he says : " By ' image ' we mean
a. certain existence which is more than that which the ideaHst
calls a representation, but less than that which tne realist calls
a thing — an existence placed halfway between the ' thing '
and the ' representation ' " (p. vii.).
The distinction which Bergson has in mind in the above
is not, I think, the distinction between the imaging as a
mental occurrence and the thing imaged as an object. He
is th' nking of the distinction between the thing as it is and
the thing as it appears, neither of which belongs to the subject .
Tne distinction between subject and object, between the
mind which thinks and remembers and has images on the one
hand, and the objects thought about, remembered, or imaged —
this distinction, so far as I can see, is wholly absent from his
philosophy. Its absence is his real debt to idealism ; and a
very unfortunate debt it is. In the case of " images," as
we have just seen, it enables him first to speak of images as
neutral between mind and matter, then to assert that the
brain is an image in spite of the fact that it has never been
imaged, then to suggest that matter and the perception of
matter are the same tring, but that a non-perceived image
(such as the brain) is an unconscious mental state ; while
finally, the use of the word " image," though involving no
metaphysical theories whatever, nevertheless implies that
every reality has " a kinship, an analogy, in short a relation "
All these confusions are due to the initial confusion of
subject and object. The subject — a thought or an image
or a memory — is a present fact in me ; the object may be the
law of gravitation or my friend Jones or the o'd Campanile
of Venice. The subject is mental and is here and now. There-
fore, if subject and object are one, the object is mental and
is here and now ; my friend Jones, though he believes himself
to be in South America and to exist on his own account, is
really in my head and exists in virtue of my thinking about
him ; St. Mark's Campanile, in spite of its great size and the
fact that it ceased to exist ten years ago, still exists, and is
to be found complete inside me. These statements are no
travesty of Bergson's theories of space and time ; they are
merely an attempt to show what is the actual concrete meaning
of those theories.
The confusion of subject and object is not peculiar to
Bergson, but is common to many idealists and many
materialists. Many idealists say that the object is really
the subject, and many materialists say that the subject is
really the object. They agree in thinking these two state-
ments very different, while yet holding that subject and object
are not different. In this respect, we may admit, Bergson
has merit, for he is as ready impartially to identify subject
with object as to identify object with subject. As soon as
this identification is rejected, his whole system collapses :
first his theories of space and time, then his belief in real
contingency, then his condemnation of intellect, then his
account of the relations of mind and matter, and last of all
his whole view that the universe contains no things, but only
actions, movements, changes, from nothing to nothing, in
an endless alternation of up and down.
Of course a large part of Bergson's philosophy, probably
the part to which most of its popularity is due, does not
depend upon argument, and cannot be upset by argument.
His imaginative picture of the world, regarded as a poetic
effort, is in fne main not capable of either proof or disproof.
Shakespeare says life's but a walking shadow, Shelley says
it is like a dome of many coloured glass, Bergson says it is a
shell which bursts into parts that are again shells. If you
like Bergson's image better, it is just as legitimate.
The good which Bergson hopes to see realised in the
world is action for the sake of action. All pure contemplation
he calls " dreaming," and condemns by a whole seiies of
uncomplimentary epithets : static, Platonic, mathematical,
logical, intellectual. Those who desire some prevision of
the end which action is to achieve are told that an end foieseen
would be nothing new, because desire, like memory, is identified
with its object. Thus we are condemned, in action, to be the
blind slaves of instinct : the life-force pushes us on from
behind, restlessly and unceasingly. There is no room in this
philosophy for the moment of contemplative insight when,
lising above the animal life, we become conscious of the
greater ends that redeem man from the life of the brutes.
Those to whom activity without purpose seems a sufficient
good will find in Bergson's books a pleasing picture of the
univeis . But those to whom action, if it is to be of any value,
must be inspired by some vision, by some imaginative foie-
shadowing of a world less painful, less unjust, less full of
strife than the world of our e/ery-day fife, those, in a word,
whose action is built on contemplation, will find in this
philosophy nothing of what they seek, and will not regret
that tnere is no reason to think it tiue.
ON MR. RUSSELLS REASONS FOR
SUPPOSING THAT BERGSON'S
PHILOSOPHY IS NOT TRUE.
BY H. WILDON CARR.
In his criticism of Bergson, Mr. Russell begins by
giving a description of Bergson's philosophy which presents
the leading features of the doctrine, with certain ironical
touches such as we expect from " a cool ciitic, who feels himself
a spectator, perhaps an unsympathetic spectator," and con-
cludes with the opinion that there is no reason whatever for
accepting it, either in the universe or in the writings of Mr.
Bergson. Had Mr. Russell ended his paper with this negative
conclusion, he would have thrown on the champion of Bergson,
willing to take up the challenge, the formidable task of dis-
covering a reason that would oblige the critic to modify his
attitude, but fortunately in the second part of his paper he
has given us two reasons for rejecting the philosophy. It is
these two reasons that seem to me to demand careful examina -
tion and reply.
The two reasons are directed against the two foundations
of Bergson's philosophy, the doctrines of space and of time.
In singling out these points for nis attack, Mr. Russell has
shown something like the anatomical skill of the paralysing
wasp in one of Bergson's best known illustrations ; if the
argument gets home, it will destroy all power for harm the
philosophy may have without killing it outright, for Mr.
Russell is willing to leave us its poetry.
The first argument is directed against the well known and
fundamental doctrine that the intellect is a mode of activity
whose essential function is to spatialise reality. Whatever
the object trat we apprehend intellectually, becomes in such
intellectual apprehension an extended image. Mr. Russell '
takes the particular instance of number and proceeds to prove
that Bergson does not know what number is, and has himself
no clear idea of it. Three entirely different things are con-
fused, he tells us, in Bergson's account, namely, (i) number.
the general concept applicable to the various particular
numbers, (2) the various particular numbers and (3) the
various collections to which the various particular numbers
are applicable. When, therefore, Bergson says that " as
soon as we wish to picture number to ourselves and not merely
figures 01 words, we are compelled to have recourse to an
extended image," this can only refer to meaning (3) and to
assert it of (1) or (2) shows a failure to appreciate a vital
Before I attempt to reply to this argument, let me clear
the ground by examining a suggested explanation that
Mr. Russell offers of the reason why Bergson may have failed
to understand this distinction, a reason of a personal and
psychological nature, namely, that Bergson is a visualizer.
Mr. Russell makes a great point of this. He suggests it first
of all in his general survey and then returns to it as something
illustrate 1 and demonstrated by this very case in point. When
Mr. Russell says that Bergson is a visualizer he seems, indeed,
to suggest that to be a visualizer is to suffer from a defect
which distinctly handicaps the patient. We may be quite
sure that Mr. Russell intends nothing of the kind if he did
we should be driven to suppose that he consideied the only
pei son capable of pure appreciation of philosophical distinc-
tions is the man blind from his birth. Psychologists divide
us all, I believe, according to the prevailing character of our
mental imagery, according to whether it is prevailingly visual,
auditory or motor, and it is found that we diffei from one
another very considerably in this respect, but I do not know
that it has ever been alleged that one form of imagery rather
than another either gives an intellectual advantage or con-
stitutes an intellectual defect. But whether that is so or no' ,
anyone who has the psychological habit of introspection can
test for himself the prevailing character of his imagery and
so can know whether he is or is not a visualizer, and if that
is so I can settle the question finally so far as Bergson is
concerned, for I have learnt on his own authority that he is
Of the meanings of number, Mr. Russell allows that
Bergson's doctrine that intellectual apprehension compels
us to have recourse to an extended image is true of meaning
(3) but denies tnat it is true of meanings (1) and (2). Here
then is a clear issue. It is important to note that Bergson
himself in the sentence criticised makes a distinction " As
soon as we wish to picture number and not merely figures or
words." The italics are Bergson's. This is important
because it admits that we can, and ordinarily do, apprehend
meanings by figures or wor is and these do not compel recourse
to an extended image. " It is the clear idea of number that
implies a visual image in space." It does not seem to me
material to the argument that the image should be visual as
distinct from auditory or motor, the essential thing is that
it is spatial. It should be borne in mind that Bergson uses
the word image for what Mr. Russell calls a sense datum and
other pnilosophers a presentation ; and perhaps the greatest
disadvantage of Bergson's term is that it suggests something
exclusively visual. Now Mr. Russell has arranged his three
meanings in a certain order, — is this oider also an order of
knowing ? To be more precise, does Mr. Russell hold that
we can be acquainted with meaning (1) while totally un-
acquainted with meaning (2) ? and meaning (2) while
unacquainted with meaning (3). Let us see. Mr. Russell
holds tnat we know universals and sense data by acquaintance,
and also that the universal is an object of knowledge quite
distinct from particular instances. Thus the number 12 is
a universal known by acquaintance, it is applicable to various
particular instances, the twelve apostles, twelve tribes of
Israel, &c, none of which instances is the number 12, but the
number 12 is something common to all the instances, whether
these are known or unknown, actual or possible, existent or
non-existent. Suppose this granted, can we apprehend the
number 12 if we have never had acquaintance with any
particular instance of 12 units ? Cleat ly Mr. Russell's
definition shows that this is impossible, and that there can
only be acquaintance with a universal if there has already
been acquaintance with sense data which are particular, for
how does he define the number 12 ? " The number 12,
obviously," he says, " is something which all these collections
of 12 units have in common." Suppose then I am not
acquainted with any collection of 12 units clearly I cannot
be acquainted with that which is common to all collections
of 12 units ? Granting then that the universal, the number
12, is a distinct object of the nund, known by acquaintance,
how can its meaning be apprehended except as " a synthesis
of the one and many," and how can a synthesis be presented
to the mind except by recouise to an extended image ? But,
says Mr. Russell, " we cannot picture the number 12 because
it is something more abstract than any picture." No doubt,
but to admit that it is more abstract than any picture is not
to prove that we apprenend it without recourse to an extended
image. Let us grant that the abstract 12 "is obviously
conceivable and obviously incapable of being pictured in
space," we have still to acknowledge that this abstract 12 is
" what different collections of 12 units have in common."
We may not picture the abstract 12 but we are dependent
on an extended image for our apprehension of its meaning.
Unless therefore Mr. Russell holds that, like Condillac's
statue with no sense but that of smell, there might exist a
mind with no object present to it but the abstract 12, I for
one see no reason in his argument for supposing Bergson's
doctrine not true.
In close connection with this argument Mr. Russell
charges Bergson with neglect of the modern views of mathe-
matics. " He deliberately," he says, " preferred traditional
errors in interpretation to the more modern views which have
prevailed among mathematicians for the last half century."
Now I am not qualified, and therefore shall not presume to
discuss mathematical theories with Mr. Russell. I go to him to
learn not to criticise. I will look at this charge therefore
from the standpoint of a disinterested spectator.
The case in point is Bergson's solution of Zeno's argument
of the arrow. According to Mr. Russell, modern mathematics
states the problem in terms that deprive the paradox of
meaning, so that ZenoV problem no longer exists and Bergson's
argument to meet it is superfluous. This, Mr. Russell admits,
is Zeno's fault, not Bergson's, but if Bergson had familiarised
himself with modern mathematical theory he would not have
revived the ancient puzzle. Let us put the two solutions side
by side. Bergson says that Zeno failed to see that a move-
ment is indivisible, you can only divide it by stopping it,
and that is destroying it, not dividing it. You think you can
divide ic because you measure the course of the trajectory,
and that being spatial, and therefore immobile, is divisible
infinitely. Modern mathematics, on the other hand, says
that continuity is infinite divisibility, that is to say, that if
there is an infinite number between any two numbers in a
series, so that there is no next number, then the series is
continuous — this is all that continuity can mean. " A
cinematograph," s;iys Mi. Russell, "in which there are an
mfinUe number of films, and in which there is never a next
film, because an infinite number comes bftween any two,
will perfectly represent a continuous motion." Well, ot
e, we musl admit that, if we accept this definition of
i ratinuity i take- away the ground of Zeno's argument —
bul does it remove the paradox in the idea of movement ?
Tiiis is the kind ot difficulty I feel in regard to ;ill Mr. Russell's
work, he removes onep ily tole ive me with a greater.
If I am puzzled to understand how Achilles can overtake
the tortoise, Mr. Russell leaves me m doubt whether I can
even affirm that the tortoise cannof overtake Achilles, [s
there not a one-to-one relation between the fast stride of
Achilles and the slow step of the tortoise, so that, granted
infinite time, eve that Achilles lakes will be takei
Bergson may be right or he may be wrong, but he offers
a solution of a paradox, whereas Mr. Russell offers a choice of
paradoxes. I, for one, can find no reason in modern views
of mathematics for supposing the Bergson's solution is not
I now come to the second fundamental position that
Mr. Russell attacks, namely, Bergson's theory of duiaticn.
This attack, if it succeeds, is the more deadly of the two.
Here again it is a confusion of two things that are quite distinct
that is charged against Bergson, — the confusion between the
act of knowing and that which is known. If this can be
brought home to him then Mr. Russell tells us " his whole
system collapses : first his theories of space and time, then
his belief in real contingency, then his condemnation of in-
tellect, then his account of the relation of mind and matter,
and, last of all, his whole view that the universe contains no
things but only actions, movements, cha.iges from nothing to
notning, in an endless alternation of up and down." The
phrase " nothing to nothing " in this quotation ignores the
important and essential doctrine whicn Bergson insists is
fundamental to the comprehension of his view, namely,
that nothing is a pseudo-idea. It is also rather curious that
Mr. Russell attributes the confusion he alleges between the
act of knowing and that which is known, in part to the pro-
found influence of Berkeley 01 Bergson's thought, whereas,
Dr. Dawes Hicks, who has made the same criticism of Bergson,
insists that this veiy distinction is clearly remarked by
Berkeley and essential to the Berkeleyan view. This however
by the way, our concern is to know if Mr. Russell's charge is
true. I think the criticism simply rests on a failure to
appreciate the exact problem that Bergson is dealing with
in his doctrine of duration. I do not know that Bergson has
anywhere distinctly approached the problem of knowledge
from the standpoint of what Meinong calls Gegensiandstheorie.
I do not know what hr view on that problem would be if he
did give attention to ic, but I cannot see its relevance to the
actual doctrine of duration. The distinction between the
act of knowing and that which is known is surely implicit,
if it is not explicit, in all that Bergson has said of intellectual
knowledge. Has not Mr. Russell himself called our attention
in this paper to Bergson's ultra-realist position in regard to
perception ? How is a confusion between subject and object
consistent with any realist theory ? It can only be with
regard to the knowledge that Bergson calls intuition that
this charge of confusion can have any semblance of meaning,
and there so far from the identity of subject and object being
a confusion it is of the very essence of the doctrine. Mr.
Russell is perfectly entitled to question or deny that we can
have knowledge by intuition, but if there is such knowledge
it is characterised by just this fact that it is consciousness of
life in living. The act of knowing turns inwards, itself knows
its knowing. Now we are all ready to admit that such
knowledge is rare and very difficult, and Mr. Russell may be
right if he holds that it is not merely difficult but impossible,
but he has no right to charge Bergson with confusing two
things which if this knowledge exists are identical, namely,
tne act of knowing and that which is known.
As I am one of those to whom not the poetry but only
the metaphysics of Bergson makes appeal, I am glad that I do
not find in either of Mr. Russell's reasons a reason to think
that this philosophy is not true.
MR. WILDON CARRS DEFENCE OF
BY THE HON. BERTRAND RUSSELL.
At the outset, it seems necessary to clear up a miscon-
ception of my purpose. I did not attempt to prove that
" Bergson's pnilosophy is not true," if we mean by h's
philosophy the conclusions at which he arrives rather than the
reasons which he gives for them. The conclusion of the first
part of my paper, quoted by Mr. Carr, is that " there is no
reason whatever for accepting this view " ; the conclusion of
the second part is almost verbally the same, namely " that
tnere is no reason to think it true." These phrases were
intentional. M. Bergson's philosophy, like all othei ambitious
systems, is supported by arguments which I believe to be
fallacious, but it does not follow that it is in fact false. I
hold that much less can be known about the universe as a
whole than many philosophers are inclined to suppose ; I
should not therefore assert dogmatically that the universe
is other than it is said to be in this or that system, unless
the account in question appeared self-contradictory. What
I do maintain is that, in view of the mistakes in Bergson's
reasoning, bis conclusions remain mere imaginative possibilities
to be placed alongside of the thousand other possibilities
invented by cosmic poets.
Mr. Carr, however, in spite of an apparent concession in
in his first paragraph, proceeds to defend Bergson's arguments ;
and we must therefore proceed to examine his defence. In
supposing Bergson to be a visualizer, it appears 1 was mistaken,
but the important point remains, that h ; s speculation is
dominated by the sense of sight to a remarkable pxtent, and
that this seems connected with the importance which he
assigns to space.
Mr. Carr next considers the distinction which I emphasize
between (i) the general concept Number, (2) the particular
numbers, (3) the various collections to which numbers are
applicable. He says I allow " that Bergson's doctrine that
intellectual apprehension compels us to have recourse to atr
extended image is true of meaning (3)." This is a misunder-
standing ; the view in question is examined and rejected in
the paragraph on p. 15 beginning " But apart from the
question of numbers, shall we admit Bergson's contention
that every plurality of separate units involves space ? " Hence
the inferences drawn by Mr. Carr from my supposed concession
fall to the ground.
The next question raised, as to the order in which we
come to know the above three meanings, appears to me
logically irrelevant, and it is only under protest that I am
willing to consider it. He asks : " Can we apprehend the
number 12 if we have never had acquaintance with any
particular instance of 12 units ? " He supposes that my
answer must be in the negative, because I say that the number
12 is " something which all these collections of 12 units have
in common," and he supposes that this is a definition of 12.
It is not a definition, and does not have the form of a definition.
And I certainly hold that we might appiehend the number 12
without having acquaintance with any particular dozen. I
have not, so far as I know, ever been acquainted with a
collection of 34,361 units, yet I apprehend the number 34,361.
But it is impossible to pursue this topic without raising the
whole question of our acquaintance with universals.
With regard to Zeno, Mr. Carr says that I remove one
paradox only to leave him with a greater. I admit that this
impression is partly my fault, and that I have not always
been sufficiently careful to display my slavish adherence
to common sense. But in the main the impiession — which
Mr. Carr shares with many philosophers who have tried to
understand the mathematical theory of infinity and con-
tinuity — is due to the almost unconscious drawing of fallacious
inferences. For instance, if I say " no part of Tristram
Shandy's biography would remain permanently unwritten,"
I?m supposed to imply that some day the biography will be
finished, which is by no means implied, and in the circum-
stances supposed is plainly false. This applies to Mr. Carr's
doubt whether, on my principles, the tortoise cannot overtake
Achilles. I say that, if they go on for ever, every place
reached by Achilles will ultimately be reached by the tortoise ;
?nd at first sight this seems inconsistent with the statement
that, after Achilles has passed the tortoise, the distance
between them will continually increase. But this apparent
inconsistency disappears as soon as the matter is understood.
With regard to the phrase " from nothing to nothing,"
Mr. Carr says I ignore Bergson's doctrine that " nothing " is
a pseudo-idea. This is a misunderstanding. I hold just as
strongly as Bergson (though for different reasons) that
" nothing " is a pseudo-idea ; I used the phrase, as it ordinarily
would be used, as an abbreviation for the phrase " not from
anything and not to anything.
Witn regard to the confusion of subject and object with
which I charge Bergson, Mi. Can says that as regards in-
tuition " so far from the identity of subject and object being
a confusion, it is of the very essence of the doctrine." It was
precisely my contention that it was of the essence of the
doctrine ; but I fail to see how this proves that it is not a
confusion. It seems to me that only one who has never
clearly distinguished subject and object can accept Bergson's
" intuition." In the case of memory, this seems particularly
evident, since it becomes necessary for Bergson to identify
remembering with what is remembered, and therefore to say
that whatever is remembered still endures. To say that such
identification is of the essence of nis doctrine is no defence ;
the only valid defence would be to show that remembering
is in fact identical with what is remembered.
In conclusion, I must admit that there is an element of
question-begging in all refutations of Bergson. When we have
shown that this or that doctrine is self-contradictory, we have
only shown that it does not appeal to the intellect ; if the
intellect is in fact misleading, as Bergson contends, it is
useless to employ it against him. It is true that Bergson
continually employs it in his own defence, by advancing
arguments which plainly are intended to be intellectually
satisfying. But this perhaps is a concession to the uncon-
verted : when his philosophy has triumphed, it is to be sup-
posed that argument will cease, and intellect will be lulled
to sleep on the heaving sea of intuition. But until that
consummation the protests of intellect will continue.
KXPRE3S PRINTING WORKS, 36, KING STREET, CAMBRIDGE.
The following addresses delivered before the Society have
also been published in pamphlet form and may be obtained
from any Cambridge bookseller, or from the Secretary : —
Dare to be Wise, by Dr. J. E. McTaggart.
Heresy and Humanity, by Miss J. E. Harrison.
The Future of Religion, by G. Bernard Shaw.
A Reply to Mr. Shaw, by G. K. Chesterton.
Religion in the University, by F. M. Cornford.
Modem Morality and Modern Toleration, by E. S. P. Haynes.
Unanimism, by Miss J. E. Harrison.
De Haeretico Comburendo, by G. M. Trevelyan.
The Historicity of Jesus, being a debate on the Christ-Myth
Controversy between J. M. Robertson, M.P., and H. G.
In addition, the following papers read before the Society
have been printed in periodicals : —
The Primitive Conception of Death, by Dr. W. H. R. Rivers.
(Hibbert Journal, 1912).
The Problem of an Effective Lay Moral Education, by Harrold
Johnson (International Journal of Ethics, 1912).
The Creation of Taste, by Holbrook Jackson (English Review,
Some particulars of the Society will be found on the following
Prof. E. G. Browne.
Prof. J. B. Bury.
G. G. Chisholm.
F. M. Cornford.
Sir Francis Darwin.
E. J. Dent.
G. Lowes Dickinson.
Prof. Arthur Drews.
Prof. Patrick Geddes.
Prof. H. A. Giles.
L. H. G. Greenwood.
Dr. A. C. Haddon.
Prof. E. W. Hobson.
G. H. Hardy.
Miss J. E. Harrison.
Professor L. T. Hobhouse.
W. E. Johnson.
J. M. Keynes.
W. R. M. Lamb.
Dr. J. E. McTaggart.
Dr. W. McDougall.
Prof. H. O. Meredith.
G. E.' Moore.
V. H. MOTTRAM.
Dr. F. Muller-Lyer.
Dr. C. S. Myers.
Prof. R. C. Punnett.
Dr. W. H. Rivers.
D. S. Robertson.
Dr. G. F. Rogers.
The Hon. Bertrand Russell.
Miss E. Sargant.
Prof. A. C. Seward.
G. Bernard Shaw.
J. T. Sheppard.
Miss F. M. Stawell.
Prof. G. F. Stout.
F. J. M. Stratton
H. W. V. Temperley.
G. M. Trevelyan.
Prof. W. F. Trotter.
Dr. Ivor Tuckett.
V. S. Vernon Jones.
H. J. Wolstenholme.
C. K. Ogden (Magdalene College).
W. L. Scott (Clare College).
P. Sargant Florence
A. S. Florence (Newnham
C. Thorne (Clare College).
H. B. Usher (Trinity Hall).
A. L. Gardiner (Caius College).
EXTRACT FROM THE LAWS.
2. That the object of the Society be to promote discussion on
problems of Religion, Philosophy, and Art.
4. Membership of the Society shall imply the rejection of all
appeal to Authority in the discussion of religious questions.
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